The World Health Organization says shipments of coronavirus vaccine to Africa are picking up while the continent continues to grapple with an upsurge in COVID-19 infections.
After a slight dip in cases last week, the third wave of COVID-19 has come roaring back, with infections rising by nearly 19 percent to more than 278,000 new cases this week.
Also, this week, the World Health Organization says COVID-19 deaths have reached a record peak of more than 6,400, bringing the total number of coronavirus fatalities on the continent to more than 172,000.
Amid the bad news is the positive prospect of scaled-up vaccine shipments to Africa. Phionah Atuhebwe is New Vaccines Introduction Officer at the WHO Regional Office for Africa. She says there has been a 12-fold increase in vaccine deliveries in the last two weeks of July compared with the first half of the month, bringing the total number of doses shipped to Africa so far to 91 million.
"We need to be clear though: In a continent of over 1.3 billion people, this is just a tiny drop in a very large ocean, and in the face of a surging third wave and more contagious variants, vaccine shortages leave Africa dangerously exposed," said Atuhebwe. "We have a very long way to go. With less than two percent of Africans fully vaccinated, we cannot get vaccines fast enough into the arms of the people.”
Atuhebwe says the vaccines arriving from the United States and European Union are expected to continue and shipments from Britain will start soon. She says around 110 million doses are expected to be delivered to African countries through the COVAX facility and the African Union by the end of September.
"Beyond September, as commitments by COVAX and the African Union and bilateral deals come through, we hope to meet the target of vaccinating 30 percent of Africans by the end of this year," said Atuhebwe. "But we also need up to 250 million more doses to complement the COVAX and African Union doses to meet this goal.”
Atuhebwe says it would be a dream to have vaccines manufactured on the continent. She says several countries, notably Senegal, South Africa, Morocco, and Egypt have the capacity to make it, but not from scratch.
For that to become a reality she says the technology for producing COVID-19 vaccine must be transferred to African countries. She says a waiver also is needed on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, known as TRIPS. That would temporarily allow African countries to manufacture vaccines for underserved populations.